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Employee Wellbeing

How a Boss’s Behavior Affects Employee Health and Well-Being

Jessica Grossmeier, Ph.D.

Vice President of Research, Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO)

Steven Noeldner, Ph.D.

Senior Total Health Management Consultant, Mercer

What the boss does matters when it comes to employee health and well-being

Ask any employer and they’ll tell you that attracting and keeping top talent is no small task. But aside from financially driven perks or benefits, how can employers keep workers happy and engaged without breaking the bank?

Follow the leader

Employee well-being initiatives are proving to be one effective option, and recent research has shown that individuals tend to have more positive perceptions of their employer, higher job satisfaction, and engagement with their workplace when well-being is seen as a top priority by the company. Leadership support for well-being is also a key factor in helping employees make – and keep – healthy lifestyle habits that make it possible for them to perform at the top of their game and realize better health outcomes.

But if the boss isn’t supportive, it’s unlikely people will continue those good habits. Findings derived from the 2018 Progress Report for the HERO Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard in Collaboration with Mercer© provide more insight on the impact leadership support can have on employee health and well-being.

The HERO report summarizes the results of several studies, finding that when leaders are on board with well-being initiatives in the workplace, employees are more likely to be satisfied with well-being offerings and improve their health. And when leaders themselves participate or if they positively recognize employee health successes, results get even better. How much better? According to the report, 91 percent of organizations whose leaders recognized the well-being successes of employees saw better results in health improvements, compared to 83 percent in companies where there was no recognition. Similarly, companies recorded higher levels of employee satisfaction with well-being initiatives when leaders participate and recognize employees’ accomplishments.

Leadership support is an easy and low-cost way for the more than 90 percent of employers with wellness budgets to get the most from their money, and yet organized leadership support is hard to come by. According to the HERO report, only 14 percent of organizations hold managers accountable for improving well-being in their organization, and more than half said managers receive little or no support for their efforts to promote their teams’ well-being. In addition, only 28 percent of organizations have leaders who publicly recognize employees for healthy behaviors or outcomes, and just 23 percent have leaders who are role models for health and well-being.

What does that mean for employers?

Enhancing leadership involvement and support for employee well-being is doable for companies of all sizes. In fact, best practices for senior leadership include actions such as:

  • Consistently articulating the value and importance of employee health and well-being
  • Actively participating in programs
  • Serving as role models for prioritizing work/life balance (for example, don’t send non-essential emails while on vacation or be sure to take activity breaks during the work day)
  • Publicly recognizing employees for healthy actions and outcomes.

The Scorecard Progress Report also showed that a company’s decision to offer a financial incentive and if they are perceived as intentional about well-being efforts can influence outcomes. More specifically, the Scorecard Progress Report showed that:

  • More employees (72 percent) report satisfaction with well-being initiatives when employers offer financial incentives, as compared to 66 percent when employers do not offer incentives.
  • Employers (56 percent) who have a formal, written strategic plan in place for well-being report better outcomes on health improvement and medical trend than employers who lack a formal plan.

Research like this should serve as a rallying cry for leaders at all levels of business, not just the C-suite, to understand and embrace the influence leaders have on the health and well-being of employees at all levels of an organization. Support for employee health and well-being can deliver positive benefits to your business and your workforce for years to come.

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